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Chidu-Nandan truce: From unique ID to schizophrenic ID

“To you, my eldest son, I give you half the kingdom. And to you, my favourite son, I give you the other half. May you both rule wisely and in peace.”

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh did not quite use those words to sort out the tussle between Home Minister P Chidambaram and Unique Identity Authority of India (UIDAI) Chairman Nandan Nilekani over the collection of biometric data from all Indian citizens or residents, but he might as well have said that.

For a country that started out trying to give its people a single, all-encompassing unique identity, Friday's compromise formula means the government has opted for a schizophrenic scheme.

The compromise mandates Nilekani’s UIDAI to continue collecting data for 60 crore Indians in the 16 states and Union Territories where it is already operational while Chidambaram’s Registrar General of India (RGI) has been given the balance 60 crore residents in the remaining states to handle.

So where will the twain meet?

Before we answer these questions, it’s worth emphasising that the NPR and UIDAI have different objectives. And that’s where potential conflicts lie.

The UIDAI, backed by the Prime Minister and Sonia Gandhi, is intended to give every resident an identity. However, the schizophrenia starts right here. While the PM wants to use Aadhaar numbers to reduce the number of beneficiaries receiving government subsidies on food or fertiliser, Sonia’s objectives remain unstated.

Given the way the various social security schemes are being drafted by Sonia’s National Advisory Council – to become universal and self-selecting – it will be tough politically to exclude people from benefits using Aadhaar numbers to sort out the deserving from the less deserving. NREGA is already operational, and the Food Security Bill is due for rollout this year, while the ID project will be completed only by June 2013. One can be certain that Sonia Gandhi is not going to implement an exclusion scheme one year before a general election.

But that problem lies in the future. In the short term, the other point of divergence is the reason why Chidambaram wants to collect data for the NPR: national security. His idea is that people living close to the borders and in Naxal-infested areas will need to be enumerated and given ID cards so that the government can better tackle violence by extremists and infiltration from neighbouring countries.

 Chidu-Nandan truce: From unique ID to schizophrenic ID

Chidambaram will be issuing chip-based ID cards, Nilekani’s organisation is merely giving a number to UIDAI enumerants. PTI

Given the differing aims of NPR and UIDAI, their approaches have also been different: while Chidambaram will be issuing chip-based ID cards, Nilekani’s organisation is merely giving a number to UIDAI enumerants.

So how will the two combine? Under the compromise, Nilekani’s Aadhaar numbers will be automatically incorporated by the NPR card in areas where Aadhaar is operative. NPR will also use Aadhaar’s biometric data while collecting its own in the areas allotted to it.

According to The Indian Express, “the NPR will continue with the originally mandated ‘flow camp model’, holding camps across states to enrol citizens, but will not collect biometric data of those who have (already) been issued an Aadhaar number. It will, however, collect biometric data for those without the Aadhaar number.”

Nilekani was quoted as saying:  “In states where the UIDAI has started the process of issuing the UID, we will take a leadership role, and where the NPR is involved, they will take the leadership role.”

So where’s the problem? It will emerge in areas where both UIDAI and NPR will overlap (border areas, etc, where Aadhaar has already begun work). And here Chidambaram comes out on top. Where the Aadhaar biometrics and data conflict with its NPR, the latter will prevail.

This means if UIDAI has Palaniappan Nilekani as the name linked to an Aadhaar number, and the NPR has Nandan Chidambaram as the person in its records, it is the latter’s data that will go on the records. Palaniappan Nilekani it will be.

In the short run, till NPR and UIDAI data are reconciled, we have the prospect of giving residents half an ID, a full ID, or a double ID, unless Chidambaram and Nilekani sort out the operational issues first.

People given Aadhaar numbers will get half an ID upfront – a number and no card. People enumerated by the NPR (but not Aadhaar) will get only a card – with an Aadhaar to be grafted on to it later. People who lie in the cusp – areas vital to national security and already given Aadhaar numbers – will get a card (after NPR gets its work done) even though they already have a number. A double-ID merged into Chidambaram’s smart card.

The Economic Times quotes Chidambaram as saying: “The solution ensures that most avoidable cost and duplication are avoided. A small area of duplication will remain but that is too small in a country of 1.2 billion." The area of duplication is said to be 5-6 percent of the population.

But 6 percent still means 72 million Indians with dual IDs and duplication of work – with both Nilekani and Chidambaram doing the honours.

In fact, it seems as if Nilekani’s mandate has actually been cut by half in terms of its physical dimension (it will collect the data in its half, but for the other half it will merely issue numbers for data collected by Chidambaram’s NPR). Since one can’t have a situation where half the population holds ID cards and the other doesn’t, it seems likely that the UIDAI’s half (with only a number) will also ultimately have to be given an ID card. Chidambaram’s mandate probably remains the same.

At the official press conference on Friday to announce the proposed mating of two schemes, Planning Commission Deputy Chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia was quoted by The Indian Express as saying “that while the UID will only give Aadhaar numbers in 16 states and Union Territories to 40 crore more people (20 crore already done), the NPR will continue to cover the entire Indian population ‘with minimum biometric duplication’”.

Both Chidambaram and Nilekani, though, are claiming to be happy with their half-loaves. The Economic Times quoted Nilekani thus: “This is a win-win solution. The system will ensure that if anybody has been covered in the NPR, he will automatically get an Aadhaar number and vice versa. There will be no NPR number, only an Aadhaar number.

Chidambaram and Nilekani have to sit together and decide how the former’s card and the latter’s number will mesh together. After all, neither of them could want a population with split identity, or a double identity.

But that still leaves one big hole in the system: both UIDAI and NPR will really solve only one half of the problem for residents - proof of identity. To get anything done in this country – open bank accounts, buy mobile services, apply for a gas cylinder – one also needs an address proof. Neither NPR nor UIDAI address this issue clearly. And neither guarantee that if you get this card or that number, you are a citizen, entitled to a passport.

Thus we have two authorities solving half a problem. The unique ID may continue to remain schizopherenic long after Chidambaram and Nilekani bury the hatchet.

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Updated Date: Jan 28, 2012 13:45:29 IST